The $110 billion arms deal touted by President Donald Trump as the basis for his strong ties to Saudi Arabia was inflated at the direction of his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Two U.S. officials and three former White House officials confirmed that Kushner had pushed the State Department and Defense Department to use figures that were aspirational but unlikely, reported ABC News.
Kushner, a White House senior adviser who is married to Ivanka Trump, reportedly hoped to score a victory for the president’s first foreign trip and symbolically ratify a new alliance with Saudi Arabia.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis supported his effort and endorsed the memorandum of intent, according to a former National Security Council official.
A defense strategy expert who has seen a copy said the letter of intent was “amateurish quality” and remarkably vague.
“It acknowledges it’s not binding,” said the expert, Michael O’Hanlon, of the Brookings Institute.
“It’s a multi-billion dollar transaction with three short lines of information as if that’s meaningful,” he added. “It’s like you’re taking notes on the back of a napkin over dinner. It’s not a contract. It’s the idea of putting all of these numbers in the interest for the biggest number you can find.”
U.S. officials told Kushner the Saudis realistically had about $15 billion to spend on arms deals, but Kushner pushed NSC officials to “sell them as much as possible.”
“They were asking us to put as much pressure on the Saudis as we could [to buy American arms],” said one former NSC official. “It was definitely being pushed on the Pentagon people to see what was possible with the Saudis.”
Trump has cited the arms deal as a reason he sided with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is close to Kushner, in an investigation into his alleged order to assassinate journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“These details raise even more questions about what is really driving the Trump administration’s refusal to crack down on Saudi Arabia’s behavior,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“If Jared Kushner inflated the size of this arms deal, we need to figure out why,” the lawmaker added. “Congress should get to the bottom of this and work to impose stronger sanctions on the Saudi regime, thoroughly review our relations with Riyadh, and cut off assistance for Saudi efforts in Yemen that have created a massive humanitarian crisis.”